HH AD

Ethereal had, for reasons literally known only to her, whipped up some 4D cocktails. These mind-buggering beverages are so called because the act of drinking one is to experience taste, texture, smell and song, all at once. Whatever the mixture, it’s the latter which messes with the head the most. I started sipping my Pina Colada and each time heard an extra little snippet.

and getting caught in the

She had asked me “would you prefer an American Pie?” but while I can take the whiskey, I’m not so fond of the rye.

Below the bubble-glassed cockpit and just above the ‘Rip’ mechanisms, I was sitting in a red-and-white striped deck chair likely stolen from Brighton beach, on the force-fielded open-air top deck. Gazing out into eternity.

In my hand I held my chosen drink, occasionally sipping a potent mixture of whiskey, vodka, lager and cider.

I get knocked down

And with a mix like that, it’s easy to see why.

I leant over and settled down my glass, pausing before sitting back upright. “Those wings are stealthy, I’ll give you that.”

Angel Demon had settled into the empty deck chair beside me.

AD: “You cannot have known-”

“No, of course not. I always set up two chairs when I’m by myself.”

Their silence rivalled the one of the void beyond the force field.

HH: You returned, then.
AD: We’ve hunted you for two years, I believe I am entitled to know why.
HH: With your ‘defects’ I imagine you already do.
AD: Is that what you call them?
HH: Spark Plug’s words, not mine. I’ve yet to figure his defect.
AD: And mine?
HH: Extraordinary telepathy, for one.
AD: Not quite.
HH: Regale me, then. Prove me wrong. I can tell you’re dying to try.
AD: I would never die to do anything.

I had never heard something so human from somebody who wasn’t.

AD: Telepathy treats the mind as an open book. My ability gives me most of the chapters, but not all of them.
HH: Depending on the main character, I suppose?
AD: Correct. I see the good in people, and the bad, and all the memories attached. Judgement without confession.
HH: So you can’t see, for example, the time I wandered deserts in isolation?
AD: No, but I can see memories of genocide. That’s memories, plural.
HH: You be so much fun at parties.
AD: Can you relate, Timelord? I find you drinking, as I thought I might.
HH: What can I say? Ethereal mixes a mean liver-killer.
AD: Typical habit of a haunted soul.
HH: Maybe you’re right. And y’know, it’s even better when left alone. Doesn’t come with a side order of judgement.
AD: I won’t apologise.
HH: No, of course not. Once you know someone well enough to apologise, it’s too late. You’ve already read them. A truth, once known, cannot be forgotten. Though I admit, drinks like this do help.

I get up again, you

AD: It is, as I believe goes the expression, my ‘thing’.
HH: Mmm. And how often do you have to say that?
AD: Not. Most can assume it from my name.
HH: Is that so? My initial reaction was white-wings and halo on one shoulder and red horn and pitchfork on the other.
AD: Angels and demons are the embodiment of judgement, both the act and result.
HH: And yet only one type is usually considered to be correct.
AD: They are both correct, neither assume otherwise.
HH: I do. Guess that puts me on the middle ground, huh? Never entirely sure what’s right but I am working on it.
AD: You used to know.
HH: I used to be a soldier. Soldiers aren’t there to consider right and wrong. They follow orders from someone who decides for them.
AD: They can still change their minds.
HH: As I said. Used to be a soldier.
AD: In the great Time War.
HH: Humph.
AD: I said something funny?
HH: I’ve yet to describe a war as ‘great’.
AD: And yet you won.
HH: No-one wins a war, but I survived them both.
AD: Ah yes. Another two words that fester in your mind. Silent Plains.
HH: Silent Plains was more than just a war. It was a place where over a hundred different races collided and killed in the name of something none of them, nobody, truly understands. I was conscripted and commanded to make sure nobody ever reached it. If the Timelords couldn’t know, nor could anyone else.
AD: You were born in battle, and have lived the life of a soldier, ever since.
HH: I deserted. Tell me, confessional buddy, was that right? Does that make me redeemable?
AD: It makes you a coward.
HH: Duck you. You don’t know a damn thing about me.
AD: I know how many people you’ve killed.
HH: Then you should also know how many I’ve saved.
AD: An imbalanced ratio.
HH: Give me time.
AD: How much, Timelord? How many years of penance and self-punishment will it take to undo your lifetimes of bloodshed?
HH: However many I have left to give.
AD: Humph.
HH: Now I’m funny too?
AD: You want so badly to be good, but you don’t know what that is. I don’t believe you’ll ever know.
HH: Nor will you. You’re colour-blind, seeing people as one or the other.
AD: I see people for what they truly are.

‘re never gonna keep me down

HH: Whatever. I’ve just finished my drink, and decided that I don’t care. The opinion of a morally misguided wanderer, friends with a dream and an owl, matters very little to me.
AD: Change the owl for a penguin and you describe yourself. There’s your problem, Homeless Helper. There’s what keeps your good and bad side so at odds.
HH: And that would be…
AD: No matter how much you force yourself otherwise, you do care. About all of it. You. Care.

Angel Demon stood.

HH: Hunting me, for two years. I thought you wanted to know why?
AD: I do. I just needed you to keep talking while I read you.
HH: And was it worth it?

Angel Demon vacated the deck, no doubt satisfied in their revenge over my disarming knowledge, earlier. Swaying slightly, I upended my drink, yearning for whatever drops were left. The war veteran with a drinking habit. I must’ve been front of the queue when they were handing out clichés…

I returned the glass to the ground, then addressed the entity I’d been ignoring.

“Will I ever stop caring?”

E: “Yes.”

I waited for the other answers, the other versions, but there were none. My hearts beat a little faster.

“When?”

E: “Three endings and the last is your own. It happens before then.”

And then Ethereal was gone again.

I trailed off, gazing into the distance, staring into the infinity of space.

And I felt as though it was staring back.

HH

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The Riptide

As any hitchhiker will tell you, and as any affluent moron will point-blank deny, there are many and plenty of ways of traversing our known universe. TARDISes use timelines and their adjoining vortex like a series of back-alleys and cut-throughs. Improbability Driven ships will take any number of scenic routes, yet always arrive slightly before you left – and you may no longer be the same species, gender, or even still alive. Dreadnought-class starships employ such monstrous, matter-splicing engines, they leave a trail of distortion in their wake, like a power-boat navigating a narrow stream.

In short, some means of travel aren’t harmful to the infinite and airless environment, and some of them are.

CAUSE’s ship was in a new class altogether.

I stood at the front edge of the cockpit, looking down. Angel Demon stood nearby behind me. I think they could tell I wasn’t impressed. A blind and deaf person could have probably known that, but, I suspected that AD had an advantage.

First point of business, though…

I said something undecipherable, unclenched my teeth, and tried again. “I haven’t seen one of those in a while,” I said, alluding to the business end of one ungodly mover.

Angel Demon’s response was too proud for my liking. “Less than a hundred were ever made, and all were subsequently banned.”

And rightly so, I thought/thundered internally. “What did they call this one?”

AD: “Spark Plug has removed its original name…and its original owners. We call it the Riptide.”

It deserved something a bit more devastating. Not a mere riptide. A planet-scale tsunami.

When I last saw a ship of this design, I was wearing another face, and not for nothing chasing after it; though frankly it would have been easier to hunt down a motorbike with a bulldozer. Ships like this redefine words like ‘nimble’ and ‘agile’, not to mention ‘immoral’ and ‘unnecessary’. They work by a system of Devastation Devices, referred to in the Timelord dictionary as DO NOT TOUCH.

I looked down again, at the Riptide’s jaw. From here, a series of antimatter blades are unleashed to tear at the fabrics of space and time, with the skillset of an amateur surgeon wielding a blunt axe. A crude rift is cut into reality, and the ship drifts through the damage, arriving at wherever it needs to be. Why go around the forest, when cutting and forging a new path is so much faster?

“You are too quick to judge, Timelord. You attempt passivity, yet beneath it all, your primary, reactive emotion is infallibly anger.”

“You’re flying an illegal and outmoded space-ship that wreaks havoc on causality whenever you so much as glance at the accelerator.” Abandoned my people as I have, I still feel these urges of preservation. “I’m not the one in the wrong, here.”

Angel Demon took to some controls, and projected a 3D image to fill the room. In a grid of blue lines forming a shape, I finally got my first glimpse of the Riptide entire. It was long, low, obsessively streamlined and basically resembled an F1 car with barbed-wire wrapped around its nose. Angel Demon flipped the projection, so we could see its rear.

AD: “Tell me what you see.”

I peered forwards at the blue-lit image, screwing up my face in concentration. An F1 car…with modifications at the back…

Moments later my anger diminished, so quickly I imagine Angel Demon would see steam pouring off me.

“Is that-?”

AD: “An additional design, imagined by Ethereal, realised by Spark Plug.”

I gave a low whistle. “That dwarf knows his stuff.”

Tacked onto the back-end of the Riptide, like a home-made spoiler, was a different mechanism to counteract the damage. Another set of blades, but with what appeared to be lassos, and matter-making materials.

Like a needle and thread…

“So,” I said, slowly, “a serial killer at one end, and a seamstress at the other?”

AD: “If you like. Our design lets us fly through the rip we have made, and mends the damage while we pass.”

“You couldn’t fix all of it.”

AD: “You may be right. But, it is better than nothing.”

I studied the image again, of the double-ended space-ship, and glanced sideways at my second guide.

“Maybe I misjudged you guys.”

Angel Demon switched off the projection. “Maybe you didn’t,” they said, turning away.

I determinedly faced outwards, capturing another perspective of the universe. “And you’d be the best to know, right? Ay Dee?”

They looked back, with something in their eyes that was more their last name than first.

“You’re not the only one on-board with what simpletons would call ‘telepathy’. I felt you knocking about up here,” I flicked my left temple, disturbing my top hat, “moving the furniture about.”

I didn’t turn to look at them, but their reflection folded both pairs of arms.

“Tell me,” I said, glancing down, “how you earned your name.”

AD: “If you are what you say you are, you should already know.”

“I’m not usually a modest man, but, I’ll admit that your ability out-ranks mine by several generations.” Angel Demon’s receptive mind is a telescope. Comparatively I’m holding a single dirty and cracked lens up to my eye.

“And besides, I prefer to hear people’s stories rather than read them.” I glanced back. “Autobiographies are so much better as audio books.”

AD: “Might want to settle in,” they said, coolly. “We’ll be tearing the universe a new one shortly. What’s waiting for you on the other side…let’s say you won’t care about me, or any of us, when we get there.”

“I wouldn’t count on it,” I replied, in vain.

I had been left alone on the bridge.

I smirked, and my reflection smirked back at me

HH

A Name to the Cause

Our tour had cost me an hour, or several years what with Spark Plug’s smoking habit, and ended as we wandered into a communal area. One full of dust, interspersed with furniture which had apparently been stolen from the charity shop of the galaxy. Nothing matched, nothing was new, but it looked undeniably lived-in.

Two-years lived-in, I reminded myself.

Captain Sceptre was playing snooker with the blunt end of a golf club. Angel Demon had returned from their errand, and was reading a book by Dan Brown. Ethereal wasn’t there.

Then she was.

Then she wasn’t.

CS: “Enjoying the tour?”

My tour guide had devolved from the words ‘this way please’. Their ship was every hoarder’s heaven. I’d seen several different breeds of ants.

“Definitely.”

Sceptre knocked the white ball, which I swore was a snow-globe at full blizzard. Angel Demon turned a page, and laughed at whatever they read.

“Hey, so, who’s the engineer around here?”

SP: “Yo,” said a voice somewhere around my left hip.

“How does this ship of yours move? Anti-matter converter, Obliv-Ion core, black star displacer?” I’d been trying to place the background tremor ever since I’d stood up*.

SP: “Nope, nope, and, nope. I’ll show yer, if yer in’trested.”

“No,” said Ethereal, “Angel will show him.”

AD: “No, I’ll show you.” Angel Demon book-marked their place, put the words aside and got up from a nest of bean bags with impossible grace and agility. Then again, that’s what eight wings will do for you.

Spark Plug lumbered away and grabbed an armful of electrical devices off a shelf; his intentions, unknown.

The multi-winged not-so-celestial passed me, stopped when I hadn’t moved.

AD: “Well?”

Five heads were turned my way, briefly four, back to five.

I pointed at each of them in turn, going around the room. “Captain Sceptre. Angel Demon. Unnamed Owl. Spark Plug. Ethereal.”

SP: “I didn’t say anythink about no tour quiz.”

“Collectively,” I raised my voice, “you are hereby known as CAUSE.”

Nobody spoke; Ethereal momentarily ceased to exist.

“One of you needs to get good at puns, stuff like, ‘let’s cause some damage’ or…’just be, cause’ or…if one of you goes solo, you’d be a subordinate cause. All right, so it can be harder than it looks. But I believe in you. Maybe not you, Cap, you take yourself wayyyy too seriously for someone wearing that.”

The sceptre-wielder glared.

“Spark Plug, personally I think the responsibility should fall to you.”

“You’re welcome,” I added, to a silent room.

And passed Angel Demon on my way out.

HH

* Always learn a ship by its vibrations, not its noises, because being outside a space-ship is mostly a bad and soundless place to be.

Ordinary Antihero

I hurried along after Spark Plug, and the hi-tar clouds left in his wake. Having caught up, I wafted cigarette smoke away from my face.

UO: “Hoo.”

“I am paying attention,” I said, hotly.

UO: “Hoo.”

“That from an animal with three hundred and sixty degrees of neck.”

UO: “Hoo.”

SP: “Be wise not ter upset ‘im. Just sayin’. ‘Dem talons ain’t just fer show.”

“Is that the extent of his powers? I mean, I’m still hazy on what all your ‘special abilities’ include, or what it is you actually do…”

SP: “You-oh ‘as a unique, whajercallit? Dex’erity.”

“Which would be…?”

SP: “Um. ‘e can turn into a sig-nif-i-cant-ly bigger owl.” The time needed to teach him that word had been well spent, apparently.

Two very large and reproachful eyes swivelled upon me, fresh in judgement. I almost cracked several ribs through supressed laughter.

“Hoo?”

“Of course not. Heh. I can’t wait to see it in action.” With tremendous effort, I disguised a snort into an almost-believable sneeze. “I take it each of you has some form of…”

SP: “Defects?”

“I was going to say super-powers, but no, yours is good.”

But whatever the remaining four had hidden up their…well, actually, only one of them was wearing sleeves, but whatever. It couldn’t be better than a significantly bigger owl

Spark Plug adopted a level gaze with me, although he couldn’t achieve ‘level’ so settled for ‘inclined’.

SP: “Ain’t nothing ‘super’ about us, mate.”

I frowned downwards.

“No extraordinary abilities?”

SP: “I didn’t say that.”

“Ah. Presumably though, you’re not playing the part of ‘heroes’ per se.”

The dwarf shrugged.

SP: “That ain’t no way to make a decent livin’.”

“Five selfish outlaws working together? Seems a little unlikely.”

SP: “Why do wolves ‘unt inna pack?”

Spark Plug grinned an evil grin that was in dire need of some good dentistry.

“Because no matter what one unique individual can do, there’ll always be something a unique group can do better. Yes, alright. Point taken.”

Spark Plug took two more cigarettes; the one behind his ear, and another to replace it. He lit the sweat-stained one, re-positioned the second, and started walking again. His strides versus mine, it was difficult not to accidentally overtake.

“And this ‘pack’ has been…hunting together, for how long?”

SP: “Two years.”

“That’s pretty impressive. Must’ve been some event to unite you all for that long. What was it? Prison break-out? Private army contract? Coincidental costume party?”

SP: “Same reason yer ‘ere, Time-kil’er. We were ‘ired.”

“Hired by whom?”

SP: “Our client. ‘Oo else?”

By now we’d reached a narrow passage way that was receding in height. I stopped in my tracks, only partly due to the lack of room.

“You were hired…two years ago.

UO: “Hoo.”

SP: “I know, ‘e is payin’ attention.”

“And you’ve been tracking me, all that time?”

Spark Plug the dwarf looked as though I’d offended mining, gold and inedible bread, all in the same utterance.

SP: “Well you don’t ezzactly make it easy, do ya?”

“How much have you been paid, to hunt a time-traveller, with four other people-”

UO: “HOO.”

“-beings, sorry, you’d never met before?”

Spark Plug reached a hand, that was covered in multiple electrical burns, into an inner pocket of his denim jacket. He extracted an item that illuminated the hallway. It would, in fact, have illuminated every hallway in existence, and gone on to fill all the darkest and deepest of caverns with its glow. It could have restored light to the end of the universe.

The owl’s reflective eyes resembled two small suns.

“Fair deal,” I breathed. “One each?”

The dwarf returned the item. Murkiness reclaimed its space. I blinked the retina burn out of the way.

SP: “Don’t be daft. What’s an owl gonna do wiv it?”

UO: “Hoo.”

SP: “We each got arr own prize. Now c’mon. Me feet are killn’.”

I ducked low and followed slowly behind, wondering in the silence what gifts would be bestowed on the Captain, the Angel Demon, the Ethereal, and the owl.

And by whom?

HH

Better Acquainted

The one known as ‘Spark Plug’ resembled a fantasy-genre dwarf, dressed as an Earth-based electrician……with a pet barn owl. Woollen cap, fingerless gloves, a cigarette pushed behind one ear, and five o’clock shadow on a jaw that jutted teeth. He didn’t look the hero. He looked like the hero’s lighting guy.

Amateur lighting guy.

He provided a tour of their ship; some outer space digs akin to a university student flat that had sprouted thrusters. My TARDIS may well be untidy at times, but the level of theirs was almost artistic. No corner was spared from piles of junk that couldn’t be any more unrelated; violins mixed with broken canoes interspersed with hi-tech weaponry components and maps of Bulgaria. We walked past a bookcase of DVDs that had a bottle of ketchup on it; a pair of slippers in a toaster; shampoo on the ceiling; tracks in the dust and wrapper after discarded wrapper of hi-tar cigarettes.

Spark Plug hiccoughed a plume of foul-smelling smoke, sniffed a few sinuses out of hibernation, and pointed a clawed finger down one of the hallways.

SP: “Tha’s dorm rooms, down there. You don’t touch anythink, you’ll keep your fingers. Don’t go in Angel Demon’s room, neither, real protective.”

My imagination ran amok at the kind of artefacts hoarded by someone named Angel Demon. I could guess which one she was…apologies, they were. Their voice was decidedly female, but they were not – made immediately obvious by their clothesless, genderless body, crimson coloured skin on full display. Their lack of attire was, if anything, understandable. It’s probably hard to find clothes that comfortably fit four pairs of wings…

“What do you call yourselves, anyway?”

Spark Plug returned an impassive, upwards glare.

“Oh, come on. Which dramatic noun did you choose to affix yourselves?”

Silence, from the dwarf and its barn owl.

“Come on! Your team name? The Avengers? The Revengers? The Justice League? The A Team, Guardians of the Galaxy, Stormwatch, Elementals, Time Squad, Watchmen, Eternity, the Bastards – stop me if I guess it? I’ve got more. A lot more. At least fifty more.”

SP: “We ain’t got no team name?”

I scowled, at a steep diagonal. “Well you’ve got that wrong for a start. How can you get all those gorgeous slo-mo shots if no-one even knows who you are? I mean, there’s a city in turmoil, its desperate leader abandons all self-respect, and says ‘There’s nothing else we can do. We’d better call…?” I held out my hopeful hands.

SP: “Us.”

I deflated. “Duck me*. That role you’ve got going in your PR department? I’ll take it, and have a team name ready within three working days.”

Just what this universe needs, another rag-tag band of lovable misfits. Each of them all so individual, there’s no way they could all overcome their differences and be friends, but lo and behold…

“So,” I said, changing trains of thought, “which of you has the tragic backstory. Excuse me, the most tragic?”

?: Prob’ly Unnamed Owl.

It was like I’d walked into a wall. Spark Plug, and his ironic owl, looked round to the halt of footsteps.

“Unnamed Owl?”

UO: Hoo.

“That is a name, surely?”

Two impassive expressions; one had a beak.

“We’ll work on that, too.”

We carried on, walking in a mutual silence, until we neared a doorway with steam curling out of it. Inside was the messiest kitchen I’d ever encountered – there weren’t actually any work-tops, just cluttered heaps of unwashed items, and a buffet of food poisoning. Ethereal stood at a blackened stove, doing her best to lift a saucepan. It worked when she was more on our side of reality, but when she wasn’t…

<clang>

“E is our cook,” Spark Plug stated, lumbering along past the door. “Takes ‘er a while ter make anythink, but she tends ter know ezzactly what yer in the mood fer.”

<clang>

She phased back, into starker relief this time. In the brighter overhead lights, I noticed that Ethereal wore a ball-gown the colour of amethyst. Whatever decision had shattered her, it had been somewhere fancy.

<clang>

SP “Keep up!”

HH

* Statistics relating to Earth-based text messages speak for themselves. The most common phrase of frustration is ‘duck me’. Expressions of surprise or distaste include ‘what the duck’, or, ‘you’ve got to be shutting me’. If the typist is really annoyed, the appearance of ‘what a cent’ may appear.